The Episcopal Church - Beginnings and Union, Separation and Reunion

The Episcopal Church - Beginnings and Union, Separation and Reunion
The Episcopal Church in America has its origins in the Church of England, which was England's officially established church by an act of Parliament. The Church of England had an early presence in America beginning with Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. As the church (also known as "Anglican") grew throughout the colonies, it became the established church of Virginia in 1609, the lower four counties of New York in 1693, Maryland in 1702, South Carolina in 1706, North Carolina in 1730 and Georgia in 1758.

The American Revolution created divisions in both the clergy and laity of the Church. Some saw it as Loyalist or Tory. Yet, approximately three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Anglican, in name if not in practice. It is estimated that during the Revolution approximately 27 percent of the Anglican priests supported independence while approximately 40 percent were Loyalists. Most Northern priests remained Loyalists while most Southern priests supported independence. It was during the Revolution that the terms "Episcopal" and "Episcopalian" began to be used by Anglicans in the colonies. The church formally separated from the Church of England in 1789.

During the early years of the Antebellum period Episcopalians tended to focus on organizing and expanding the church in the states in which they lived with less interest in having a centralized structure or making efforts to spread their faith elsewhere. This began to change in the 1820s and 1830s when a General Seminary for the entire church was created and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church was established.

The first society for African Americans in the Episcopal Church was founded in 1856 and named "The Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting The Extension of The Church Among Colored People." It advocated allowing blacks to participate in seminaries and diocesan conventions.

Beginning with the secession of South Carolina in December 1860, much turmoil occurred within the Episcopal Church. Southern dioceses were confronted with how to deal with their status. The result was Episcopalians in the South forming their own "Protestant Episcopal Church" (but this separation was never officially recognized in the North).

In March 1861, the two most senior Southern bishops, Leonidas Polk of Louisiana and Stephen Elliott of Georgia, requested the Confederate dioceses send representatives to a meeting to be held in Montgomery, Alabama on July 3. That meeting ended with a resolution stating that the secessions rendered "it necessary and expedient that the Dioceses within those States should form among themselves an independent organization."

In October 1861 a convention was held in Columbia, South Carolina, at Trinity Church (now Cathedral), which recommended that Southern dioceses ratify a proposed constitution. By November 1862 most did.

The Southern Church's first General Council was held November 12-22, 1862, at St. Paul's Church in Augusta, Georgia. There was also a gathering of bishops at St. Paul's in June 1864 for the funeral of General (former Bishop of Louisiana) Leonidas Polk, who was killed in action during the Atlanta Campaign.

After the South's defeat two other gatherings occurred at St. Paul's. First, September 27, 1865, a meeting of the Southern bishops was held there; second, the Southern Church's final General Council on November 8-10, 1865.

Southern bishops were invited to attend the Episcopal Church's 1865 General Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Several Southern bishops chose not to attend, however, being uncertain as to what to expect. There was a debate there over resolutions condemning the Southern dioceses but none passed. Rather, a resolution of thanksgiving for restoration of peace in the country and unity in the Church was the end result. By May 16, 1866, all Southern dioceses had formally withdrawn from the South's Protestant Episcopal Church and rejoined the national church.

Raymond G. Chadwick, Jr.

The Civil War Round Table of Augusta
275 Robert C. Daniel pkwy., Augusta, GA